What seemed like a fairly straightforward press conference quickly turned bizarre Tuesday afternoon. Announced earlier in the day, the media event was intended to be an opportunity for the group Safe Access Alliance, led by media director Philip Dawdy, to discuss opposition among medical marijuana patients to Initiative 502 - which seeks to legalize, regulate and tax pot in our state.
A longtime marijuana activist, Dawdy (who once worked for Seattle Weekly) is now the former media director of the Safe Access Alliance. That's because, as he tells it, after organizing the event and doing a handful of interviews with the press earlier in the day (including one with Seattle Weekly), he was unceremoniously canned by Safe Access Alliance President Kurt Boehl at the conclusion of yesterday's press conference.
"I literally don't know what happened," says Dawdy, pulling his car over to discuss the event by phone. "I don't have an official reason I can give you. I'm speechless. I'm numb. I've never had anything like this happen to me in my life."
Toke of the Town Philip Dawdy
Dawdy's firing came after two members of Steve Sarich's No on I-502 campaign, which has been working to defeat I-502 for the last few months and raising money for that cause, showed up to - for lack of a better description - heckle and harass Safe Access Alliance, contending the group has been collecting money for its own (identical) cause that confused donors believe is actually going to the "official No on I-502 campaign. Earlier in the day Dawdy told Seattle Weekly the group had raised $9,050 so far, and spent "probably about $7,000 to $7,500 of that." Dawdy said no report had been made yet with the Public Disclosure Commission because of an issue with the PDC website and Safe Access Washington's password.
"So we start the press conference, and about five minutes into it fucking Sarich's people show up," Dawdy says of Monday's unusual press conference.
The Associated Press account of the Safe Access Alliance presser
The Associated Press account of the Safe Access Alliance presserdetails a scene in which, after escorting the No on I-502 party crashers to the door, cutting off Dawdy, and taking a few questions from the reporters on hand, an agitated Boehl gave his media director the axe "within earshot of reports." The AP story quotes Boehl as telling Dawdy "You embarrassed us," while also observing that the Safe Access Alliance president appeared to have been most annoyed with Dawdy for portraying Safe Access Alliance as a group specifically and solely opposed to I-502, instead of the "ongoing political committee" it actually is.
Reached by phone later in the day Boehl declined to discuss the specifics of Dawdy's ouster.
Before his firing, Dawdy had described the Safe Access Alliance to Seattle Weekly, saying: "We started it as essentially an advocacy organization to have an umbrella for the lobbying work that myself and others do with various cities around the state. That's the genesis of it, and of course hovering in the background was I-502. We knew we would have to address it in some fashion at some point."
In hindsight, of course, it seems that while Dawdy was well aware that Safe Access Alliance had purposes outside of fighting I-502, the outspoken way in which he chose to address the controversial initiative, which he and many others - especially within the medical marijuana community - oppose because of its five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in the system DUI provision, was too much for the powers that be at Safe Access Alliance.
"I did not want to spend my summer at all this year opposing I-502, but the way they wrote this thing there's no way I can support it," Dawdy told Seattle Weekly before his firing.
While it was the voracity and singularity of Dawdy's message that seemed to trouble his bosses most, it was the method in which Safe Access Alliance had gone about raising money that inspired the wrath of Sarich's official "No on I-502 political action committee. Sarich -- no stranger to controversy himself, and a polarizing figure in the fight for marijuana legalization -- says his organization had confronted Safe Access Alliance's money-raising efforts once before, at an event in Tacoma a month ago, and decided to do the same after hearing news of Monday's press conference.
"The reason we showed up is they were having a No on I-502 event, apparently," says the always colorful Sarich.
"When you go to the [Safe Access Alliance] website, unless they've changed it in the last day, it says 'No on I-502,' and 'No on I-502' is not a slogan, it's the registered name of our PAC."
Sarich is correct - the Safe Access Alliance website did include a graphic featuring the slogan "No on I-502." But, much like Dawdy was sacked, by the end of day Monday the website -- safeaccessalliance.org - was out of commission, too - replaced with a 404 Page Not Found message.
"They decided that Phil would take the fall for this, I think," speculates Sarich of what transpired after his group had been shown the door
"I don't have anything to hide. I didn't do anything wrong," says Dawdy.
Sarich tells Seattle Weekly that Boehl has already agreed to forward $1,000 to $1,500 to the No on I-502 PAC - money that was collected under false pretenses by people who believed they were contributing to his effort.
For his part, Boehl says he has yet agreed to send Sarich's group a check, and isn't entirely sure if any donations were raised for Safe Access Alliance that were meant for Sarich's No on I-502. But he plans to conduct an internal audit, and promises "whatever donations we've received inadvertently or mistakenly will be refunded to the appropriate campaign."
"If people gave those donations thinking they were contributing to No on I-502 yes, we will absolutely transfer those donations to the No on I-502 campaign," says Boehl. "I don't know if that's even what happened. But if people did feel like they were giving money to the No on I-502 campaign and, in fact, they gave money to Safe Access Alliance, we have no intent of keeping that money and we will more than gladly give it to No on I-502."
So what's to make of all this?
The embarrassing spectacle, in which two seemingly pro-marijuana groups momentarily locked horns in the fight against an initiative ostensibly designed to legalize pot -- until one of the group's media directors was publicly fired -- amounted to yet another strange chapter in the conflicted, convoluted and oftentimes downright ridiculous battle over Washington's Initiative 502. And probably not much more.
Though, with plenty of time left until the November general election rolls around, it's likely not the last we've seen on this front, either.